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Alabama Flashback Friday: The Deuce Is Loose

David Palmer the first modern era Wildcat

David Palmer
The Double-Deuce is loose.

Even the most casual college football fan is somewhat familiar with the term “wildcat” quarterback. In the shortest of explanations, this formation is when a non-QB (usually a running back or wide receiver) takes a direct snap with the intention of running the ball, most often in a sweep. This move often gives the slipperiest player on the team ten blockers and the element of surprise. Today’s quarterbacks such as Alabama’s Jalen Hurts have evolved out of the position.

The origins of the position are a bit murky. If you look on Wikipedia, a bunch of monkeys with laptops seem to think that just because it is called “Wildcat” that Kansas State coach Bill Snyder was the mastermind who brought it to the world’s attention (I added my two cents). Although Snyder has been coaching since John F. Kennedy was President, it was Alabama who brought it back to the forefront.

In 1991, the Tide had a 5-foot-7 160 pounds freshman flanker by the name of David Palmer who wore #2 (a much larger Bama player would don that number 24 years later). Alabama fans called him “The Deuce”. He had been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but he seemed to be a lot faster when someone was trying to tackle him.

Watch Palmer breaking ankles in the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl against Colorado.

[Side Note: the Tide began 1991 at #22 and dropped out of the rankings after an ugly loss at #6 Florida. They slowly worked their way up the rankings to #5, winning out and finishing 11-1. Undefeated Miami and Washington split the National Championship. Two-loss Penn State and FSU were ranked #3 and #4. The Gators were #7. There was some serious anti-Bama venom after the Bear retired. Much to the haters’ chagrin, Bama would win #12 the next season.]

Check this one out. Freeze it at 0:17 and 1:07. I know it was Vandy but the Deuce was surrounded by SEVEN defenders.

And it wouldn’t a Flashback Friday if we didn’t show Bama victimizing LSU.

Wow! Amiright? But back to the Wildcat...

1993 was a tough year. The Crimson Tide was coming off a glorious Sugar Bowl beatdown of the Miami Hurricanes, but had lost several players to the NFL (six drafted, three in the first round) and graduation.

After winning their first five games, it was time for the Third Saturday in October at Legion Field. #10 Tennessee led the second ranked Tide in the fourth quarter 17-9 with 1:44 remaining, when Jay Barker led a masterful 82-yard touchdown drive (which included three splendid receptions by Palmer) with no timeouts to make it a two point game with 21 ticks on the clock. In front of a live national audience on ABC, Palmer introduced himself to the nation by taking the snap in front of a line of three running backs and scooted around the right end for the game-tying two-point conversion. You may think it is hard to get excited about a 17-17 tie, but I defy you to watch the last 1:44 (go to the 1:20:52 mark) and not get goose bumps.

[Side Note: When Bama gets down on the goal line with the clock running down and no timeouts, the Vols are forced to take a timeout because they have 13 guys on the field - kinda reminiscent of that crazy UT-LSU game a few years ago.]

The next week against Ole Miss, Jay Barker, 23-0-1 as the Tide starter, left the game with 7:40 to play in the first half after being sacked and never returned.

Coach Gene Stallings options were Brian Burgdorf or that guy who saved the day the Saturday before. Burgdorf was mediocre, 5 for 12 passing, so Stallings put Palmer under center and... watch him go! (Start the video at 13:00)

Palmer finished with eight catches for 76 yards, seven rushes for 38 yards, and one completion on one attempt for 54 yards. He also had five kick returns for 75 yards as the Tide rolled to a 19-14 win.

The next Saturday versus Southern Miss, Stallings would audition both Burgdorf and Freddie Kitchens to underwhelming results. The QB competition bled over into the next week with dreadful results (Burgdorf 8-13-1-73-0; Kitchens 0-4-2-0). By the time Palmer was put back under center down 14-0 in the fourth, it was a little too late. He brought the Tide back with 13 points but LSU prevailed 17-13.

Barker came back the next week vs MSU and Palmer moved back to his familiar wideout position (8-171-1). The Crimson Tide prevailed but Barker did not look himself.

The rest of the 1993 season was cursed with injuries to Barker (season-ending knee in the Iron Bowl) and Palmer (shoulder). The added distraction of Antonio Langham being ruled ineligible because he signed a cocktail napkin contract with a slimy agent after the previous season’s Sugar Bowl did not help the situation (funny how things changes, isn’t it?), but that is a post for another time. However, it makes you wonder how things might have been if Palmer had run a little more Wildcat and/or if Barker had stayed healthy... Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda...

Palmer was named consensus All-American and won the Paul Warfield trophy as the nation's top collegiate wide receiver (an award also given to Amari Cooper in 2014). He finished third in the Heisman voting behind FSU QB Charlie Ward (who never played a down in the NFL) and Tennessee QB Heath Shuler (Really?!?!).

The Vikings selected him in Round 2 of the 1994 NFL Draft, 40th overall, where he spent seven seasons (1994-2001). He led the league in punt returns during the 1995 season. For his pro career he returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns, as well as one rushing and one receiving.

For a classic OWB bio on “The Deuce”, click here.